A recent post from *TIME Magazine’s online feed tells about yet another Northern European lifestyle trend—this time courtesy of Dutch culture—that might be useful for those of us facing hassled or hurried lives. It’s called niksen, which can be translated literally as “doing nothing.”
The Dutch researchers and sociologists quoted in the article promote something easily named but not easily practiced: counteracting stress, not by working hard to limit its causes but instead by just being. At its core, niksen is about relaxing completely, however that happens. Niksen is not the same as mindfulness, instead characterized by how you let you mind wander.
Practicing niksen could be as simple as just hanging around, knitting, taking a walk in nature, looking at your surroundings or listening to music—”as long as it’s without purpose,” says Carolien Hamming, managing director of CSR Centrum, a coaching center in the Netherlands. Hamming and other proponents of niksen note that doing nothing can help recuperate from burnout. Another positive benefit: It can give brains space to be creative.
In the middle of a stress-filled life, though, “doing nothing” isn’t always simple. If you’re used to being busy all the time—even “multi-tasking”—it can be uncomfortable to be still with no obvious purpose. Some people might even wonder whether niksen is just another way to encourage laziness.
The article validates how I spend chunks of my retirement days—just sitting in one place and observing what’s happening around me. During a recent vacation, for example, I filled much of my time staring out a huge picture window at the mountain range vistas in front of my eyes. “Mind-wanderer” also describes my late-evening times of listening to classical music.
One of my favorite Bible stories connects with niksen. When Elijah—under great stress because of his insistent repudiation of an evil king—moved into a cave and prayed for God’s word to come his way. For his life direction to become apparent. It wasn’t until he heard the “still, small voice” (KJV) or “soft whisper” (CEV) that he realized what God had in mind—for the nation and for Elijah himself. (See 1 Kings 19:9-18 for the whole story.) Another passage that served as a kind of mantra when I was working fulltime—and that still guides me during worrisome or stressful times—is Psalm 46:10. In the King James it reads, “Be still and know that I am God.” (In the Contemporary English Version, “Calm down and learn that I am God!”)
I’m not sure whether either scripture completely describes niksen. To my older adult sensitivities, though, these words from the Bible seem encouraging for how I can spend my days now that I am retired, now that I have time and space for “doing nothing.”
Some final observations: I think it’s possible that niksen might be a form of “praying without ceasing”—at the edge of formal prayer structures, and ranging widely over the emotional landscape in which I live. It also occurs to me that niksen—seemingly devoid of purpose—may be one way in which the Holy Spirit equips me for other parts of my older adult life. That doing nothing gently and quietly prepares or fortifies me for doing something. That mind-wandering may actually be mind-centering.
Thanks to the good folks at TIME Magazine, I now have a (Dutch) word for another part of my fullness of years—always a good thing for those of us who write!
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